The two Turlock brothers who were convicted of brazenly gunning down a rising rap performer at a memorial barbecue, will conceivably spend the rest of their lives behind bars.
Raymond "Raymo" Gutierrez, 31, and Alvaro "Tito" Saldana, 26, were sentenced on Tuesday by Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff to 80 years to life in prison for the murder of 26-year-old Roger Villanueva on May 25, 2008.
"I'm absolutely thrilled to deliver this to the community of Turlock," said prosecutor Deputy District Attorney Thomas Brennan in regards to the lengthy sentence. "These are worst of the worst."
After a five-week trial, a Stanislaus County jury handed down guilty verdicts for both men on April 5. The two men were convicted of first degree premeditated murder with gang and firearm enhancements. The men were given 25 years to life for the murder and because of previous offenses that were counted as strikes, the sentence was doubled. The enhancements earned them an additional 25 years to be served consecutive and each man was given five years for priors.
Neither man, sitting shackled behind their attorneys, visibly reacted to the sentence.
Because both Gutierrez and Saldana are validated members of the Norteno criminal street gang, they will serve their time at a maximum security level prison, Brenna said.
"This is to prevent them from influencing others in prison," Brennan said.
The district attorney's office was able to prove their case that Gutierrez and Saldana were out to get revenge on Villanueva because he had assisted a man considered to be a "degenerate" by the gang and in doing so, disrespected Gutierrez and Saldana by siding against them on several occasions.
Villanueva was shot to death by Gutierrez in the backyard of an Angelus Street home. The prosecution said Saldana lured Villanueva back there with the guise that they would settle their dispute with their fists.
The shooting was committed during a well-attended barbecue for another Turlock man, killed two years earlier.
In her victim's statement Debi Dunuan, Villanueva's mother, chastised the men for how their actions have disrespected both families and God.
"Tito and Raymo, you took my son's life and you took a part of mine," Dunuan wrote. "Not only did you hurt me and my family, but you also hurt your own families.
"You tried to play God, but why did you feel you had the right to do this to Roger?" Dunuan asked in her statement. "I have more hate and rage inside me than I ever thought possible. It's too late for apologies. Hopefully this is the last time I have to look at your faces."
Lupe Menjerez, a friend of Villanueva's and his one-time fiancée, also submitted a victim's impact statement to the court. She recalled Villanueva's aspirations of rap stardom and the dedication he showed to his music, an avenue that was increasingly moving him away from his gang lifestyle. Days before his death, Villanueva, who had moved to Arizona, performed at a Modesto nightclub under his rap moniker "Smoke da Villian."
"He was a dreamer," Menjerez wrote. "I loved him in life as much as I do in death."
Both Gutierrez and Saldana declined to make a statement before being sentenced. Gutierrez's defense attorney Frank Carson did make a statement questioning the validity of the probation report submitted to the court.
Carson said the report didn't reflect the regret both men expressed over Villanueva's death when they took the stand during their trial. Carson also had other issues with the report.
"The report says they challenged him (Villanueva) to fight and that is not true," Carson said. "It doesn't indicate other issues like the heavy drugs in Villanueva's system or that there were issues of great provocation."
The defense had claimed during the trial that Villanueva was accidently shot during the fight.
Even though the murder occurred with a large crowd nearby, it was difficult to get witnesses to step forward, Brennan said.
"I truly believe Tito and Raymo banked on no one cooperating with law enforcement," Brennan said. "At the end of the day the conscious of each witness took over and they did what was right."
Gutierrez was facing additional charges, including one stemming from two shanks being found in his cell during the trial proceeding. The additional charges were dropped out of the interest of justice.
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.